Case three: My good friend.
So, this very strong person pushes me from my living room into my bedroom. I struggle against him, but I’m no match for him. “No seriously stop it!” I say well after giggling had turned to uncomfortable laughing, silence turned to protest, and eventually into frustrated cries. He grabs my arms and twists them in front of my chest and throws me down on the bed, holding me down. He has this shit-eating grin on his face. He is having a blast! “OUCH! Stop it already!!”
This wasn’t the only time he crossed the line with me. I shouldn’t call it “crossing the line”. Perhaps we should call it jumping up and down on the line and then doing somersaults over the line and sticking the landing on the other side of it.
We were at an event with a large group of people. At one point, we were asked by the organizers to greet one another warmly, but I was not in the mood for a hug. I declined one. He thought that it would cheer me up to hug me anyway. So he did. “No, seriously, stop it.” I put my arms between him and me, and tried to push him away. He just held on tighter. I suppose he thought that at some point I was going to find this endearing. He started rocking me back and forth like a doll. “Get off me!” I yelled loud enough for people around to hear. I was finally able to break free, but only because he finally let go. By the end of his exercise in cheering me up, I was left embarrassed and practically in tears.
I wasn’t the only one who got this treatment, quite a few young women in his life got pushed around on a regular basis, whether or not they seemed the least bit happy about it.
Two or three seconds of initial giggling or uncomfortable laughter somehow rendered him completely unable to hear:
“Let me go.”
Even after these episodes and more, he inexplicably did not change his behavior. One day I had finally FINALLY absolutely had it with him. Instead of just telling him to “stop”, I generalized and characterized his pattern of behavior. I barely remember what I said, but I’m pretty sure it included the words “bully”, “inconsiderate”, “clueless” and probably a few well-placed f-bombs. I pointed out that he only did this with people who were physically weaker than him and the idea that they enjoyed being pushed around and strong-armed constantly was in his goddamned imagination.
So, he stopped.
Well, as far as I know.
I’m sure he still play-wrestles and hugs people. I don’t mean that. I mean, as far as I know, he stopped constantly assaulting young women.
And yeah, that’s what that’s called when you touch someone when they don’t want you to. It’s assault.
He stopped because he really didn’t mean to be awful. You would think he would have come to this conclusion without it being spelled out in explicit detail with expletives, but he didn’t.
I could devote many blog posts to all the times I’ve been subject to the type of assault euphemistically described as “unwelcome touching”. The vast majority, thankfully, have simply been uncomfortable but a couple are pretty scary and messed up. Many have been repeated by the same person, despite my protests. Most have been friends, but not all. Most took “no” for an answer – eventually. Some are very apologetic that they weren’t using their best judgment – that would be the drunk ones. Most remain friends.
Others I simply learned to avoid – and yes – tell others to avoid.
This is not a “woe is me” post. I just want people to realize that this sort of thing is normal. It shouldn’t be, but it is. For some it is much much worse than others. For me, this isn’t a constant. It’s an intermittent, albeit sometimes disturbing, annoyance. (Cross my fingers. Knock on wood.)
Sure, most people don’t do the really really bad stuff. However, unwelcome touching is not a phenomenon perpetuated by a tiny number of sick skeazy predatory creepers that get locked up and put on registries – and frankly that’s not even true of the really really bad stuff. If you want a dose of reality: go here.
Sometimes unwelcome touching is perpetrated by otherwise nice-enough people who should know better, should be expected to know better, have no excuse for not knowing better – but for some reason don’t know better and are careless and inconsiderate of the comfort, autonomy and well-being of others.
In this, I suspect there are very few who haven’t failed miserably at least once or twice in their lives. I know I have, and that is not cool – at all.
More times than not, however, the majority are not the ones creating the problem. They are just the ones dealing with the problem.
Case four: Vampires.
So, I’m hanging out with my vampire friends. No, we’re not real vampires. We’re goths and live-action role players. We’ve created a pretty lively close-knit group of college-friends. We’re sitting around at a bar drinking lightly, having great conversation, and celebrating.
Some diminutive young man, dressed similarly, whom I have never met, decides to start nipping at people’s necks.
Nobody is responding well to this. The average reaction is to say, “What the hell?!” after pinching their shoulders to their heads to protect their necks. Somehow this doesn’t deter him.
He bites my neck.
I am sitting on a chair at the head of a booth. I can see the others at the booth are eying their beer bottles and looking at me expectantly. (As my husband recalls, he had grasped the top of his bottle at this point and was gritting his teeth.) I realize I have a small armed and zealous security detail supporting me. I wave my palm at them. “I’ll handle this.”
I smile sweetly and beckon the young lad over to me with my finger so I can whisper in his ear. “Young sir, your behavior is inappropriate. If you do that to me, or anyone else here, again, I’m going to [something unmentionable] with a butter knife.”
He didn’t do it again.
Being older, wiser and more boring, I probably wouldn’t threaten violence these days. However, I would be just as blunt. I would explain how the behavior is inappropriate and spell out the consequences for that behavior.
Unwelcome touching not only damages the comfort and well-being of those assaulted or harassed, but it puts the harasser in danger of retaliation and damages his/her/hir ability to form healthy relationships with others.
It is in everyone’s best interest for this simple expectation to be articulated: Nobody is entitled to someone else. They are not entitled to the body of, the personal space of, or the time and attention of someone else. Those are things you ask for. Those are not things you just take.
We shouldn’t have to wait until an annoyance or an incredibly serious and hurtful situation presents itself to make this crystal clear.
That is how harassment policies protect everyone (including bullies) and that’s a good thing.